Posts Tagged ‘works’

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The Intersection of Grace and Effort

February 16, 2010

I don’t know if you knew this, but I sin. A lot. I have for quite some time now. And if you are anything like me, you probably do to. And if you are anything like me, there are sins in your life that you have fought for a very long time, years perhaps. Knowing that I am a new creation has somehow seemed to have little effect. My efforts to fight sin have been woefully pitiful, at best. I have seen my strength fail more times than I can count. I know that my salvation is not based on my own actions, but I how can I be a Christian and sin so much? Shouldn’t I try to not sin?

This struggle leaves us with two options. Try and fail, or don’t try and wait for God to change you. I have been alternating between these for 28 years. But there is another way.

John 10:28 says that Jesus gives his people eternal life, “and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” We are secure in Christ, apart from what we do. Yet Philippians 2:12 tells to “work our your salvation with fear and trembling.” How do these work together? The often stated doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved’ does NOT mean that we are free from a requirement of constant effort in order to be saved (even though this is true). We are called to constant effort, after all. What it means is that that effort is guaranteed to succeed! How? Because Philippians 2 doesn’t stop there. The next verse says that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. God is the initiator of the desire and the ability to ‘try’! He is also the sustainer of that very same effort.

Those of us familiar with Reformed theology have no problem acknowledging that when God initiates salvation, he gives us a new nature and a new will, so that we can choose to cry out to him in faith and repentance. We understand that this is an act of God as well as a real choice on our part, both at the same time. Similarly, God working in us, turning our hearts away from sin and giving us strength to resist temptation, does not negate the fact that it is a real effort on our part! It is simply an effort that is backed and secured by the perfect effort of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life will be a sweaty, bloody affair. We will have broken bones and healed scars. We will have fatigue and adrenaline rushes. We will cry out in our effort, straining with every fiber of our being to cling to Christ. And our efforts will succeed. If it is God doing the work in our hearts, how can it fail?